Epiphany at 25,000 feet.

December 14, 2010 at 7:27 pm | Posted in Career angst | 12 Comments

I think it was the conversation I had with my uncle this weekend.

About how he left his PhD program in the middle, but how he’s always harbored a desire to be a college professor.

The epiphany struck me last night, when I was on my plane to Chicago.

I am really unhappy with my career.

For all the bitching I did about my accounting firm, I loved working with really intelligent people. The kind of people who looked AHEAD to the new pronouncements, delved into technical guidance, who pushed you to try new things, learn new areas, talk to people you may have thought were out of your league like CEOs, CFOs, and audit committee members.

Mostly, though, I miss learning.

I am NOT an accountant, not the kind that is any good at closing. I hate doing the same thing over and over; detest the robotics, don’t really CARE about whether or not an expense hits the correct cost center.

Every morning, when I drop O off at daycare and am left alone with my thoughts, I grow more and more morose as I commute into work.

And last night, when I was thinking about the idea of getting a PhD, I grew excited.

Because I have IDEAS. About how to use my band director’s legacy of leadership training and apply it to something I already have – my MBA and CPA. I could study corporate leadership and how it affects accounting policies; the correlation between employee empowerment and ethics and accounting policy and business results. Whether it’s best to have a visionary at the helm of a company and the operations to follow.

I don’t know.

But all of a sudden, I’m EXCITED about about something to do with work. I love the idea of exploring an idea and running with it. Of immersing myself in academia, teaching college kids basic accounting and financial statement analysis.

I’m probably romanticizing it, I know. So go ahead and tell me so.

But what this means for me? I am NOT destined to work a job I hate for the next 20 years. I can DO something about it to change it. I just need to figure out how and when and the next step, and maybe I CAN do something I DO feel passionate about. Maybe it can even USE the degrees I have, instead of throwing them away to start new.

Maybe, just maybe, I can feel excited about what I do again someday.



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  1. Yay!! There is no point in living life if you hate your work which takes the largest part of your waking hours. Find something you love to do, whether it’s this path you’ve described in your post or something else. [Maybe read Dan Miller’s book “48 days to the work you love,” which can help you decide what you really want to do.]

  2. An epiphany is an epiphany and I know this one has been building for some time. I felt much the same way when I returned to my former employer after my son was born but in a newly created role. I HATED IT. I mean, I loved working for my old boss again and being in a national role that determined the direction of the company and executed his vision. But it was fucking mind numbing dealing with our parent company and I grew to hate it unlike anything in my life before or since.

    So, now here I am, a stay at home mom hoping to mother a newborn again and wondering what my next career will be and when. I have my BA and MA and wonder how I will put my leadership, organization, staff development, and execution skills to use. But for now, I am hoping that “mother to 2” is my next title and soon because I really do want to embark on whatever my next path will be.

    You will figure it out and I am thrilled that you are excited. I am one for higher education and especially when that opens avenues that you find enticing or that otherwise would not be open. I can’t wait to see your journey unfold.

  3. I have read your blog for a very long time–and I had a child after infertility a few months after O was born. Then, your blog spoke thoughts and feelings that resonated for me–as it does now that we’re also thinking about whether or not we’ll try to add another child to our family.

    And, I had to respond to this post–you asked for it! I have a PhD and teach at the college level. And, I really do love the teaching, and I can honestly say that I’m hard pressed to imagine a job that would be better for me. But, the stresses of getting a job and then getting tenure are intense. (For me, these were as stressful as infertility, especially getting a job–where doing all the right things doesn’t always mean that a job will work out for you). And, getting a PhD is not a picnic either. (I’m in a different field, so in business/accounting it might be really different.) But, like infertility, now that I’m on the other side, it seems worth it to me.

    You’re equipped to do it, without a doubt, and passion will carry you a long way. Most of all, you deserve a career that you love. Yet, I do often see people romanticize careers in academia, not realizing the work that goes on behind the scenes or the stresses of, for example, working at an institution that is very, very different from the ones you attended and remember. It’s important to really talk to people who are in the profession, doing the jobs that you could see yourself doing, and finding out what they think about process of getting a PhD, a job, and tenure.

    It’s clear that you’d be a wonderful, thoughtful teacher, and I’ll surely keep reading, with all best wishes, to see what happens next.

  4. No matter what you do professionally, You’re going to want to be on a beach in Hawaii instead (at least that’s how we feel). So I always think that as along as you don’t HATE what you’re doing and have enough time with your loved ones than you’re doing pretty good for this life.

    The amount of resources a PhD takes are enormous. The amount of time and money not spent on your child but on yourself is something that I would consider. Having to postpone saving for your kids college education cause you’ve racked up more debt for your own, etc.

    You have plenty of education to find a job that works better for you. Maybe even land a job that allows for more free time for you to pursue personal and family interests? Maybe start your own business, be your own boss (that’s what I did and it’s great!). Perhaps your time is better spent walking that path.

    My husband’s a tenured professor and he really likes his job, but the money ain’t so great for the amount his education cost and we are in graduate school debt up to our eye balls. We definitely had hoped to be in a different place in our lives right now, financially speaking. Debt slavery is what graduate school will get you, if you’re not rich. Be forewarned.

    Personal crisis is very hard. Maybe you could take some time off of work to process what you’re going through.

  5. PhDs (contrary to what the last commenter posted) are supposed to be free, because you’re working as a GA/TA etc. What they *do* take, though, is time … and that can be hard to balance with family. But so can work. I think it’s awesome that you’re discovering something that inspires you … and I hope that the same thing happens to me soon! Life is too short to compromise on a career when you have a choice to do something else.

  6. My husband just left the corporate world he despised a few months ago for an associate professor position at a university. He teaches undergrads finance and accounting while he’s finishing his dissertation. Next year, with his official Ph.D, he’ll take on grad students, too. He LOVES it. He just closed his office for 3+weeks off on break, and stays home with the girls 2 days a week because his hours are so incredibly flexible and he wants to. I know the requirements are different everywhere, so I don’t know what your situation would be. Romanticizing? Maybe. But if you ask my husband, I think he’d say “maybe not.”

  7. I think you’ve been coming to this decision for some time. Go for it!

  8. Hi,

    Just wanted to chime in with the poster above – as a Ph.D. candidate you’ll be working as a grad assistant so the financial outlay is minimal. It takes a ton of time, which in my opinion allows you to teach your child by example that learning never stops and to never settle for less than your hearts desire.

    I am currently enrolled in an MLIS course and yes it takes time and I’m fortunate that my company reimburses part of the expense but just the act of improving my career opportunities has offered a flood of relief and a renewed sense of purpose. Check out some programs, talk to some professors and if this is what makes your heart sing – go for it!

  9. Yes! Yes you’re right, learning is key. It seems as if you’re putting another piece of the puzzle into place.

    As for the should I/shouldn’t I PhD debate (is it a debate yet?) from the commenters, my 2c worth is that you do need to consider carefully whether a PhD really is the right way forwards. On the upside, it sounds exciting to you, and that’s worth a lot. On the downside, money not great – short or long term, hard to be self-motivated and self-driven when you’ve got a priority list that includes a demanding toddler (and maybe another?), hard to do something with it afterwards in many cases and may even be detrimental to your long-term career path (depending on the situation/field).

    So I think this is one of those post-epiphany moments where you need to wait til daylight and review it a second time to make sure it still makes sense. Which I’m sure you’ll do even without me saying so 😉 But whether or not you decide to go with a PhD, you’ve found out that an unfulfilled desire to learn (can we generalise more – an unfulfilled desire to *progress*?) is at the root of your malaise. So whichever path you end up choosing, you are closer to the right choice.


  10. Even though I’m in my dissertation, I’m firmly on the “don’t do it” side. Getting a phd has nothing to do with learning. It is about persistence and proving that you can do independent research. You really, really need to be realistic about your job prospects aftter you graduate. Are you willing to move anywhere in the country for a job? Uproot O and J? Is J willing to do all the work and childcare you won’t be able to handle while you are in class and researching? If you have a second, how will you balance the new babe and schoolwork? If you just want to teach, and not write or research, could you do so for a community college or a vocational school without the phd? Those are some questions you should give some serious thought to before you dive in. If you’re passionate about it and the answers are all doable, go for it. But don’t be blinded by the excitement of doing something new and get stuck in another bad situation.

  11. I think that is a FANTASTIC idea….FANTASTIC, PERFECT….IDEA.
    even without the PHd…TEACH…that is your calling. It truly is.

  12. Even if you don’t follow through just that excitement I can sense in you now is surely worth it.

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